Next week, the people of Alabama may elect an alleged (but based on numerous, credible reports) pedophile to the US Senate. But even if his personal life was spotless, there would still be many reasons to be concerned about a Senator Moore. Many of his statements reveal a shocking disregard for religious freedom, which should worry anyone who cares about this issue.
In my time working with religious freedom advocates, they prided themselves on their non-partisanship. Religious freedom isn’t Democratic or Republican, progressive or conservative. It’s a basic human right. Religious freedom advocates now have a chance to prove this. Will they stand up for their values, and oppose his candidacy for the US Senate?
I joined the religious freedom community almost by accident. While in graduate school at Georgetown, I was working with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. They had formed a partnership with the Pew Research Center to support their Global Restrictions on Religion work, and I transitioned to Pew. I also contributed to the Berkley Center’s Religious Freedom Project on a study of religious freedom and extremism. I eventually ran Pew’s project after some leadership changes. I was there until last year, when I left for my current position. During my time in DC, I worked closely with many religious freedom organizations who relied on the data my project produced. Now that I am no longer with Pew, I am more active on religious freedom issues, and try to remain in touch with these organizations, albeit from a distance.
I have a lot of respect for their work, especially its nonpartisan nature. The International Religious Freedom Act, which established US international religious freedom efforts, grew out of a partnership between activists of different faiths and political persuasions. Advocates later criticized both President Bush and President Obama for perceived inaction on religious freedom. And their initiatives don’t fall neatly into partisan categories. Examples include the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, the Institute for Global Engagement’s work with Vietnam to promote religious freedom, USCIRF’s criticism of repression in Eritrea, and Forum 18’s reports raising awareness of Central Asian states’ repression of Muslims and others. These are neither Democratic nor Republican causes.
While most religious freedom work — including my own — is international, some focus on domestic US politics as well. Conservative religious freedom organizations criticized the Affordable Care Act’s requirement healthcare plans cover contraception. And advocates across the partisan divide supported Muslim inmates’ right to grow a beard in line with their faith. Some — such as the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative — also rate US legislators based on their support for religious freedom. And Tom Farr — of the Religious Freedom Institute — admirably warned Trump that his proposed Muslim ban would violate religious freedom.
It is on domestic issues where areas of disagreement emerge among religious freedom advocates. Those on the left argue state support of religious activity infringes on religious freedom, while those on the right believe this is an expression of religious sentiment. Even more intense disagreements arise over abortion and contraception. Progressives argue laws limiting access to healthcare impose religious beliefs on those who don’t hold them, while conservatives point to their religious beliefs forbidding participation in certain activities.
Yet, religious freedom advocates on the right and left have been able to cooperate despite significant differences. They still advance international religious freedom even as they fiercely debate abortion. This is because they agree on the fundamentals of religious freedom while differing on its application.
So some religious freedom advocates may see supporting Moore as one of these areas. They may think right and left can agree to disagree on his candidacy, while still working together on international concerns. Specifically, many conservative religious freedom advocates argue public officials should be free to share their faith. As a result, they may back his controversial installation of a Ten Commandments sculpture in his courthouse.
But Moore’s actions are not an expression of religious freedom; they are an attack upon it. Moore has argued the First Amendment — which provides for religious freedom — only applies to Christians. He believes in the “supremacy of a Christian God over the Constitution.” These are examples of favoritism towards religion, which I counted as an infringement of religious freedom when I worked with Pew. These statements have led prominent conservative Christian Michael Gerson to criticize him as being devoted to “the gospel of Bannon.”
Moore’s candidacy is thus not a tricky area where differing views of religious freedom clash. His philosophy is directly opposed to the values religious freedom advocates cherish. How could religious freedom advocates criticize foreign governments limiting rights to certain religions when they didn’t fight a US Senator who argues the same thing? What if Moore backs policies in the Senate religious freedom organizations support; will they really praise him after the things he’s said and done? As I’ve argued before, these domestic debates may actually undermine international religious freedom advocacy.
Progressive religious freedom advocates will attack Moore. But conservatives, if they are to be consistent, should oppose him over his views on religion and politics as fiercely as they did President Obama’s policies on contraception access.
Let me be clear: the disturbing allegations against Roy Moore concerning teenage girls (which I believe) are the major concern about his election. But his attitude on religious freedom is very concerning as well.
Religious freedom advocates frequently face the criticism that their nonpartisan activism is a cover for conservative Christian politics. Standing up to Roy Moore — and standing up for all the Christians and non-Christians he would marginalize — is an opportunity to prove these criticisms wrong. If, however, religious freedom advocates say nothing as Moore is elected to the US Senate — or, even worse, support him — the community may lose the credibility it has gained, and religious freedom efforts will suffer as a result.
This post originally appeared on Medium.